West Papua, Then and Now: A Historical Perspective

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Travelers, divers, sea lovers, and coral reef enthusiast must have heard of the name Raja Ampat. Those have already been there say it might be a heaven on earth. Spectacular landscape, blue water, sands, gracious local people are only parts of its charm. But not many know that Raja Ampat is located on the West Papua or West Irian, one of the provinces in Indonesia, which is widely known as a conflict area where military and international issues arise.

The history wrote that Papua (formerly named Irian and Irian Barat) – that now has two provinces: West Papua and Papua, was a part of the Sriwijaya Kingdom in the 18th century. A Chinese wayfarer once wrote that there was an island in the Indonesian archipelago that was called Tung-Ki that was part of the Moluccas Kingdom. Tung-Ki was the Chinese name of Irian. Between the 12th and 15th century, Negara Kertagama Book – a trustworthy book, writes about the kingdom history – explicitly mentioning that Papua was a part of Majapahit Kingdom. In the 16th century, an agreement between Tidore and Ternate decided that Papua as a part of Tidore Kingdom. The agreement was proof that the Dutch admitted that Papua was a part of Indonesia.

Many argue that Melanesian – the local people of Papua – was not a part of the Indonesian tribes. The main reason was that the Melanesian in Papua is featured with dark skin, athletic figure, big bones, and curly hair, which is very different from most of the other Indonesian tribes with Mongolian traits. But looking back through the history, the argument has proven wrong. On October 2015, Melanesian Cultural Festival was held in Kupang, Indonesia. Indonesia was chosen because 80% of Melanesian in the world living in Indonesia. In the festival, Indonesia presents cultural dances such as Molow tribe from the South-Central Timor, Papua, Moluccas, and another area on the East Nusa Tenggara. There was also a movie with East Indonesia area theme, along with other movies from other Melanesian countries.

Even though the history has stated clearly that Papua was originally part of Indonesia, but when Indonesia declared its independence in 1945, the Dutch kept holding Papua for various reasons. One of the Dutch’s motivations was because Papua is a rich land with hidden treasures. The land is wealthy of minerals, gold, diamonds, copper, oil, gas and many more. It is very gifted that many parties want to take part in its treasures.

After going through the Round Table Conference on 1949, finally on the 1st October 1962 Papua was claimed by Indonesia to officially become part of the country with the condition that on 1969 the United Nations should oversee the referendum of the West Papuan people. The vote result was to remain as a part of Indonesia, but the West Papuan Nationalist rejected the vote and established Free Papua Movement (OPM). The independence movement of West Papua still exists until now.

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The upsetting news about killings, raping, and genocide of West Papuan people by the Indonesian Army has been told by the national and international media by the OPM from time to time, to achieve the international world’s attention and is part of their effort to gain support on independence. Even with lack of proof, disturbing news about the conflict keeps circulating on the media.  In 2014, Nicholas Messet, former deputy foreign minister of the OPM dismissed the claimed and that the so-called proof the OPM use for the false claim was the documentation that took place before 1970.

Although countless dialogs and peace acts have been done to achieve a harmony between Indonesia and Papua, seems like there still a separatist group of West Papuan people that is still not satisfied with the Indonesian government effort. Under the President Jokowi Widodo administration, the government has been showing its genuine attempt to make Papua better in the economy, infrastructure, transportation, education, health, welfare, and agriculture. The President himself visited Papua and oversees the building development of the largest province in the country.

The infrastructures revitalized and built some are the planned 3259.45 kilometers long of Trans Papua Highway cutting through mountains, building bridges, and several airports. The government hopes the more accessible the land, the price of the staples is also reduced. It is envisioned that the staples pricing such as food, oil, and gas on the West Papua will be similar to the stapler pricing in Java. The government also built several sea banks to support the water supply and agriculture. The government is trying hard to help Papua to catch up with the other Indonesian provinces.

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Many assure that this is a new beginning of a Peace Era in Papua. It is an act of the statement that Indonesia has been showing an unshaken will: to keep Papua as a part of Indonesia and will continue to strive until all the West Papuan people stop seeking their own independence and be assured that Indonesia is their fellow countryman, family, and their future.